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Judge May Force Google to Submit to Feds 418

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the lubricious-embankment dept.
illeism writes "News.com is reporting that a California judge may force Google to give the feds at least some of the information it wanted. The feds may get some of Google's index of sites but none of the user search terms. From the article, the judge said he was 'reluctant to give the Justice Department everything it wanted because of the "perception by the public that this is subject to government scrutiny" when they type search terms into Google.com.'"
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Judge May Force Google to Submit to Feds

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  • by ackthpt (218170) * on Tuesday March 14, 2006 @07:03PM (#14920117) Homepage Journal
    At least the judge is favouring less than the gorvernment originally requested, still... I feel this is again the over-eager government wiping its feet on the flag and blowing its nose in the Constitution.
    • by Tweekster (949766) on Tuesday March 14, 2006 @07:08PM (#14920170)
      if you read the article you would notice that google does not oppose the extremely limited amount of info requested. and if the govt would have asked in the first place they wouldnt have gone to court.
      • Yeah, but "Google defending privacy against evil government goons" is a nicer soundbite. That way they sound like they care about the rights of their users (unless of course they live in China).
    • by killjoe (766577) on Tuesday March 14, 2006 @10:04PM (#14921229)
      A couple of days ago there was a topic about a bill that would criminlize critizing the presidents survaillance program. Many people said something to the effect "this will never get through the courts".

      I invite those people to carefully observe how far backwards the courts can bend to appease the federal govt.
  • Reluctance? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) <obsessivemathsfreak.eircom@net> on Tuesday March 14, 2006 @07:05PM (#14920133) Homepage Journal
    ...the Judge said he was 'reluctant to give the Justice Department everything it wanted because of the "perception by the public that this is subject to government scrutiny" when they type search terms into Google.com.

    Perhaps he should be more reluctant because it's against the US constitution.
    • Re:Reluctance? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by conJunk (779958) on Tuesday March 14, 2006 @07:10PM (#14920189)
      no kidding. what really trives me nuts is the way that we put so much value on "reaching an agreement" in this culture that people look the other way to "doing increadibly wrong things"

      doj asked for a million urls and 50,000 searches... "well," says the judge, "they've reduced that to much smaller numbers, so i'm impressed with their ability compromise, so i'm inclined to give it to them"

      well hold the fuck on! discolsing private information is still disclosing private information. who cares if they're even asking for just one url and just one search term... it's still wrong. *especially* since it's (a) not for an investigation of anything, and (b) being used to try to justify their own failed attempts at legislation

      excuse me, but it's not google's job to do the government's homework for them.

      • interesting that you said the government's homework. I'm curious as to what you mean by that.
        • Re:Reluctance? (Score:5, Informative)

          by conJunk (779958) on Tuesday March 14, 2006 @07:32PM (#14920367)
          from tfa:
          The outcome will determine whether the Justice Department will be able to use Google search terms in a social science research project that will be used this fall to defend an antipornography law. The Bush administration argues that criminal sanctions in the 1998 law--which has been placed on hold by the courts--are more effective ways to shield children than antiporn filtering software.

          from teh beeb [bbc.co.uk]

          Essentially it wants data from search engines to prove how easy it is to stumble over porn on the net. If it can prove this the result might be onerous regulation for many websites.
          In court documents the US government said it had tried to generate the same information using the Internet Archive website but did not get the results it wanted.

          essentially, the doj wants this data to make a point about child porn online. they are not investigating any violations of any law. this is not an issue where a warant even *could* be issued

          rather, they are trying to make a point regarding aspects of the 1998 Child Online Protection Act, which the ACLU has successfully blocked in court. the government wants figures to support it's position in that case, but those figures don't exist, so they're demanding that google *give* them the raw data they need to make the argument they want to make

          • Re:Reluctance? (Score:4, Informative)

            by cpt kangarooski (3773) on Tuesday March 14, 2006 @07:44PM (#14920457) Homepage
            No, this is not about child porn. It's about how readily children can see any kind of online porn (and thus whether legal pornographers should have to take steps to make it harder to access porn).
            • Re:Reluctance? (Score:4, Insightful)

              by syukton (256348) on Tuesday March 14, 2006 @08:22PM (#14920697)
              EXACTLY. This is what people are failing to understand. It isn't about child porn, it's about childrens' access to porn. It's more "for the children" bullshit. To quote George Carlin, "Fuck the children."

              I don't get this at all really...suppose they pass a law stating that you need to make it harder for kids to find porn online. So then everyone will simply host their websites overseas, circumventing the jurisdiction of the USA and keeping their porn easily accessible. What does the new law then accomplish? Answer: nothing!
      • by jd (1658)
        Compromise would be trying to figure out what part of their search fit within the law, the Constitution and the authority's need to know. (The Federal Government does NOT have an automatic need to know, even when it lawfully CAN know.)

        Compromise would also involve determining how much of the request would actually be meaningful - signal versus noise. Handing the Feds a bunch of noise would weaken the Feds' ability to do useful work. Which, given the useful work done since the Total Information Awareness cam

      • Its not like what you transmit to a search engine via the internet is private and secured. Its fully open to the public and viewable by all. What the administration is trying to do is get google to do the legwork for them using the courts. Google doesn't want to do it, doesn't want to get tangled into what it could lead to. Its not like the NSA or someone else couldn't aggregate the data.

        And it is bullshit, they shouldn't have to. Others have to pay a lot of money for this data, and google does
    • Perhaps he should be more reluctant because it's against the US constitution.

      Isn't it the judge's job to determine Constitutionality?

      Isn't the disagreement between Google & the DOJ what the case is all about?

      You may not personally like or agree with DOJ asking for the data, but that doesn't make it unconstitutional.
  • by bcarl314 (804900) on Tuesday March 14, 2006 @07:06PM (#14920152)
    I've said it before, but I can't understand why the government needs this data when they already have search results from MSN, Yahoo, and AOL. One would think that statistical analysis should be able to give enough information to make or break their case already. What are they looking for from a MOE perspective?

    I'm just not sure what they need this data for. Are the google search results that much different than MSN or "live.com"???

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 14, 2006 @07:14PM (#14920211)
      You're correct, the government doesn't need this information.

      What the government does desire, however, is established precedent which permits it to seize information from any company, even when no actual crime is being investigated.
    • One would think that statistical analysis should be able to give enough information to make or break their case already.

      But... they aren't trying to *break* thier case.

      That is why they need this data.
    • It would be interesting to know if they are!

      The perception is that google is used by more net-savvy people, whereas MSN (say) is used by the mum-and-dad types who just use the search button in IE. So, it'd be interesting to see how much the actual searches made reflect this.

      I bet there's more porn in the google results :-)

    • I can't understand why the government needs this data

      Because if google says no, and they give in, then they look weak. This government has had a "not backing down under any circumstances" complex for the last 6 years. Hrm, I wonder why.
    • I've said it before, but I can't understand why the government needs this data when they already have search results from MSN, Yahoo, and AOL.

      Google's data it probably a better sample than the other two, and all three combined provide an excellent pool of numbers to derive whatever their statistitions are looking for.

      But there may be more to it. I think they are also interested in establishing a precedent as well, a "toe-hold" they can try to exploit later for additional, and perhaps more invasive data.

    • They want to set a precedent however losely for collection of search data without a warent so that they can do it randomly in the future.... Think of this in the same way they want to go after your library records.
  • by WillAffleckUW (858324) on Tuesday March 14, 2006 @07:07PM (#14920154) Homepage Journal
    Just imagine what would happen if people decided to rebel, and started typing in useful search phrases over and over, while hosting web pages which had those keywords.

    It's like a thousand al-Qaedas all at once.

    That's how you deal with an intrusive government in Soviet America.
    • That's how you deal with an intrusive government in Soviet America.

      Silly me. I always thought you could vote in qualified people that actually represent you, the voter. I guess as long as you simply vote for the guy with the most money, then that is what the candidates (and party) will represent. It seems to me that they are doing an excellent job of that. If big money is what gets them into office, it's because we vote for big money. Waddaya know, the system works!
  • Because we all know that if the government really wanted that information from Google, they'd have persued it via Patriot Act style secret warrants. Since I haven't heard about a bunch of Google employees going to jail, I assume they're following the law.

    It is subject to government scrutiny when you type something into Google.

    The reason that the Justice Department publicised this rejection from Google is because they thought it helped them. That's what baffles me about this case. Was it their public image that they thought this helped? Was it in their interest to make people think their information was safe with Google? Did they think it would cause Fox News to smear Google? (And how would that help them?) Is this information honestly going to help them get their preferred verdict? I don't see how...

    Iduno. I can't tell if I'm over thinking this or under thinking it.
    • by necro2607 (771790) on Tuesday March 14, 2006 @07:18PM (#14920250)
      "It is subject to government scrutiny when you type something into Google."

      Oh, what? So my internet browsing habits are subject to scrutiny by foreign governments? I live in Canada. IMHO the US government should keep the hell out of my personal information completely, and should have not even the slightest rights to ever know of such information unless I actually enter their country. Otherwise, GTFO ...
      • That's why there was a controversy over the contracting out of medical billing in BC. Had a fertility test in BC in the last 2 years? A US defence contractor knows about it....
      • The US Government has way fewer scruples about spying on Soviet Canadia. With y'all they don't even have to pretend to follow the Bill of Rights.

        If you care about this, use a Canadian service provider. I guess Canadia could sign a treaty with the US providing privacy for your data, but... somehow I don't think that's going to happen.
    • by Petrushka (815171) on Tuesday March 14, 2006 @07:19PM (#14920264)

      It is subject to government scrutiny when you type something into Google.

      And this is why I long for a search engine that isn't based in the US, and which isn't subject to US law.

      It's weird that the DMCA controls what comes up in my search results in spite of the fact that I don't live in the US; but that's almost incidental in comparison to the truly dreadful notion that my internet searching habits are likely, over the next few years, to become more and more subject to the scrutiny of a foreign, hostile, government. It seems pretty obvious that this case is just one step along the way to the US government conducting surveillance on pretty much everyone in the world.

      Can anyone recommend any non-US-based search engines? The only one that I've managed to find out anything about is one that hasn't actually debuted yet, Quaero [wikipedia.org]; if there are others I'd love to know. I hope Quaero turns out to be half as good a search engine as Google (somehow I think that unlikely), but at least maybe it'll encourage the existence of non-US-based search engines.

    • The one possibility you missed- they publicised it to change people's behavior- to now use other search engines.
    • The only thing making sense for me is:

      bwahahaha, you see, NOONE can stop us now!!!1111

      That anything of this gets out at all convinces me they're on a trophy hunt and are keen to beat their chests about it.
    • by hackstraw (262471) * on Tuesday March 14, 2006 @08:22PM (#14920698)
      Because we all know that if the government really wanted that information from Google, they'd have persued it via Patriot Act style secret warrants. Since I haven't heard about a bunch of Google employees going to jail, I assume they're following the law.

      Clearly, you know nothing about the USA PATRIOT Act.

      1) There are no warrants under it.

      2) You do not hear of people going to jail. They are illegally seized and detained indefinitely without charge or warrant and without legal council.

      It is subject to government scrutiny when you type something into Google.

      scrutiny (skr?t'n-?)
      n., pl. -nies.
      1 A close, careful examination or study.
      2 Close observation; surveillance.

      That too is illegal according to our constitution, without a warrant for a specific charge looking for specific information.

      Iduno. I can't tell if I'm over thinking this or under thinking it.

      I know if you live in the US, you should think more about this stuff.

  • sad really (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 14, 2006 @07:08PM (#14920163)

    for the GOV to be undertaking this blatent fishing expedition (still convinced the gov is on the right path ?)

    of course if Google had stopped logging every bit of shit that goes over the pipe this problem wouldnt exist, as they say "you have made your bed, now sleep in it"

    • Re:sad really (Score:3, Insightful)

      by raoul666 (870362)
      But the thing is, I don't mind google having all that info on me. Not one bit. Because I know all they want it for is to make money. The government, on the other hand, I don't trust one bit, cause their intentions are nowhere near as simple or honest.
  • by Zarel (900479) on Tuesday March 14, 2006 @07:09PM (#14920176)
    From the article:
    ...the Justice Department...demands a "random sampling" of 1 million Internet addresses accessible through Google's search engine, and a random sampling of 1 million search queries submitted to Google in a one-week period. During negotiations, the Justice Department narrowed its request to 50,000 URLs and said it would look at only 10,000. It also said it wanted 5,000 search queries and would look at 1,000. Ware said that the reduced demand coupled with the government's "willingness to compensate Google" for up to eight days of its programmers' time had convinced him to grant the Justice Department at least some of what it had requested.
    So the reduced demand somehow makes it okay to violate first-Amendment rights?
    • by necro2607 (771790) on Tuesday March 14, 2006 @07:27PM (#14920326)
      Like I keep seeing quoted in the news articles about this whole thing - Your privacy will be invaded bit by bit, in a gradual, not-so-harsh manner. But in the future you'll look back and realize what has happened...
    • You:
      So the reduced demand somehow makes it okay to violate first-Amendment rights?

      The Constitution:
      Amendment I
      Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.


      Me:
      WTF? I hope you don't get paid for your legal brainery. Same goes for the mods that gave you insightful.

      (NOTE: this post in
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Where in that is the government asking for the identity of the searchers? They're not asking "who searched for X?" They're asking "what results were generated for a search for X?"

      Frankly the government should just ignore google and hiring someone good with writing a web spider and just crawl google for the data they want. Hell if they don't want the most recent results they could even hit the google cache for those searches :)

  • From forum (Score:4, Funny)

    by Viraptor (898832) on Tuesday March 14, 2006 @07:10PM (#14920188) Homepage
    Probably someone from Justice Department asked something on a web forum and got standard "STFW" with google link.
    Some people should just learn to use google, not ask feds to force informations out of it, really... ;)
  • Blade:Trinity (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Bodysurf (645983) on Tuesday March 14, 2006 @07:15PM (#14920221)

    Ever see the movie Blade: Trinity where the Feds try and seize the computers?

    I wouldn't be upset if Google pulled a "Abraham Whistler" on them.

    Google's records are none of their business and the courts shouldn't have standing to seize them.

    • For those of us suffering from a Wesley Snipes deficiency, what'd they do in the movie?
      • by hey! (33014)
        Snipes gave the Feds a stirring speech about the Fourth Amendment, and convincingly demonstrated that under the Strict Construction theory they lacked the constitutional authority to be conducting this search anyway.

        Half the Feds hung their heads in shame and chagrin and went home. The others stayed for the practical demonstration of Second Amendment rights.
  • by Serveert (102805) on Tuesday March 14, 2006 @07:22PM (#14920280)
    I'm very confused here, I thought that a certain party was for less government regulation? Is this justified because we must "protect the children"?
  • by phoenix.bam! (642635) on Tuesday March 14, 2006 @07:24PM (#14920301)
    What standing does the government have to even ask for this information?

    I see no reason whatsoever that google should be forced to provide for the request other than the DOJ saying "Can we see your information?"

    No law has been broken, no crime is under investigation... Can they come to my house next and ask to see the last 1,000 things I searched for? Why can they do that to google? This is insane and that judge is a moron.
  • What's the theory? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Black Parrot (19622) on Tuesday March 14, 2006 @07:26PM (#14920318)
    What's the political theory that supports the idea that the feds can just demand anything they want and expect to get it?

    Would any judge be supporting them if it wasn't about pornography? Did they get whatever they wanted from Enron without a warrant?
    • Would any judge be supporting them if it wasn't about pornography? Did they get whatever they wanted from Enron without a warrant?

      See, that's the problem. They didn't want to get anything on Enron; perhaps too many people in the government would be implicated. (Just look at the government folks Enron met with in the year or two prior to their debacle. Interesting list.)

      Since this is about people and their own personal "web experience with a happy ending," it must be too nasty for the kids to see. I know whe
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 14, 2006 @07:29PM (#14920339)
    No problem, Google can just move their servers to China to keep them safe from a government that thinks it needs to track every citizens activity.
  • by Opportunist (166417) on Tuesday March 14, 2006 @07:39PM (#14920416)
    Wasn't it the question how many "ordinary" search queries return sex pages?

    Would generate a few questions for me:

    1. Who cares?
    2. Should someone care, of course ALL of them do, sooner or later.
    3. What do you need Google's database for? Too stupid to use Google?
    4. Or too out of touch with the people you're supposedly representing to come up with "ordinary" search phrases?
  • by nurb432 (527695) on Tuesday March 14, 2006 @07:42PM (#14920440) Homepage Journal
    Where nothing is considered private and personal.

    Live your life accordingly.
  • Will they only be handing over information about searches from Americans? Or is it going to be pulled from all Google users? I know this probably doesn't breach any privacy laws in the US (do you have any?) but could be of concern to Europeans. Does anyone have more info on this aspect?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 14, 2006 @07:58PM (#14920559)
    I'll bet Slashdot that I've figured the judge's legal reasoning out. The key is here, from TFA:

    "Ware said that the reduced demand, coupled with the government's "willingness to compensate Google" for up to eight days of its programmers' time, had convinced him to grant the Justice Department at least some of what it had requested."

    The government is claiming the data as private property to be taken for public use under the 5th amendment. I'm pretty sure this is unprecedented, anyone heard of anything like this before?
  • by Billosaur (927319) * <wgrother@NOSPAM.optonline.net> on Tuesday March 14, 2006 @08:16PM (#14920656) Journal

    Gidari said that Alexa Internet, which is owned by Amazon.com, is a site that offers Web analytics services that can produce similar information "without entangling us in litigation going forward."

    That point was raised repeatedly by Ware, who seemed concerned that if he granted the request, "a slew of trial attorneys and curious social scientists could follow suit."

    "Now Google could face hundreds of university professors (saying), 'I've got a study I'd like you to conduct,'" Ware said.

    Further on...

    The dispute has elevated the prominence of search privacy, touching on how divorce lawyers or employers in a severance dispute could gain access to search terms that people have typed in. It's also raised eyebrows because Google chose to cooperate with a demand by the Chinese government to censor searches on the company's Google.cn site.

    If the Justice Department does win this case, Google would likely face a second round of subpoenas from the American Civil Liberties Union for follow-up information. The ACLU is challenging the 1998 Child Online Protection Act, or COPA, which makes it a crime for a commercial Web site to post material that some jurors might find "harmful" to any minor who stumbles across it.

    The point becomes: if Google complies with this request, either voluntarily or by court order, then that open's a Pandora's box for any group that wants a crack at their data, to prove their pet theory or compile information to use in other court cases. Ultimately, the government doesn't care about the actual data. They'll find enough porn searches in MSN, Yahoo, and AOL to keep them salivating for a good while. But if they can't bring Google to heel, they will a) look powerless in the face of one of the world's largest Internet companies and b) lose any grip they have on the others, who will say "if Google doesn't have to do it, we don't either."

  • by illspirit (957034) on Tuesday March 14, 2006 @08:16PM (#14920660) Homepage

    The whole reason the DOJ wants the records is to prove that filtering software isn't as effective as COPPA, no? So how exactly is any number of random queries or page indices going to prove this? Even if the random sample was all hardcore porn pages and search strings, there's no way of telling if it was a child who did the search (or viewed the page). And if they're not asking for IP addresses (which they claim they're not), there's no way to know if a search or page even originated in this country, right? So, in theory, the data the DOJ is after might contain the results of people looking at porn in other countries in which it isn't illegal.

    So, basically, they want to prove that someone, somewhere, might be breaking a US law, possibly in a country where said law doesn't apply, as evidence to support said law. Brilliant. What's next? Since other countries allow boobs on TV, we should ban TVs here?

  • Eh.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by neurokaotix (892464) on Tuesday March 14, 2006 @08:25PM (#14920715)
    Before anyone spreads anymore misinformation, it's not to stop child pornography. It's to stop children from looking at porn, which, anyone with half a brain can tell you, is impossible because of how the Internet works. There is no identification layer to the 'net. The only way these extremely prude, old ass ignorant senators are going to be able to stop kids from looking at porn (and we all know they don't like porn at all, for anyone anyway) is to simply ban porn sites. Or forbid the viewing of any pornographic material to anyone who hasn't used a credit card to pay for it (this kind of indentifying the person as being at least over 18). The government is out of control. The time to start bearing arms and getting ready for the revolution is now.
  • 1776 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by the_REAL_sam (670858) on Tuesday March 14, 2006 @08:25PM (#14920723) Journal

    "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."

    A FASCIST in power is a tyrant, right?

    The administration's CLAIM is that they want to sort the data to find the child porn downloaders. But all that means is they would like to be able to search in a blanket way, without first meeting the requirements set forth in the bill of rights.

    From Article 4 of the Bill of Rights:
    "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

    The article spells it out: blanket searches are unconstitutional b/c they do not spell out the particular place to be searched. Just saying "there's got to be SOMETHING on that server that's illegal just isn't good enough.

    On those grounds, conducting blanket evesdropping on server(s) that THEY DON'T OWN is completely unconstitutional; furthermore, there is already a supreme court ruling which says they cannot perform ANY evesdropping on THEIR OWN servers. So they couldn't "work around it" by putting "snoopy routers" at various checkpoints.

  • Parking Garage (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tilrman (234948) on Tuesday March 14, 2006 @09:33PM (#14921082) Homepage

    Suppose Google owned a parking garage with valet service. It lets people park there for free, with the understanding that you'd receive advertisements on your windshield. The Justice Department steps up and says it that Google should hand over the keys to every car so that the government can check them out, just in case.

    And the judge is "reluctant" to give them what they want because it might somehow give the appearance of Big Brother.

    Thanks for sticking up for us, Your Honor.

  • by MrNougat (927651) <`ckratsch' `at' `gmail.com'> on Tuesday March 14, 2006 @11:08PM (#14921477)
    And I'm not talking about Jenny McCarthy, either.

    For five years now, "terrorism" has been the excuse to trample on all sorts of privacy concerns in the US, even though there have not been any terrorist acts perpetrated in the US since WTC, and there's been no hard evidence that intrusion of privacy has prevented anything. One of the major differences, though, is that the rooting out of Communists in the early 1950's started in the State Dept; the rooting out of terrorists today completely skips that and goes right for the citizenry.
    • by robertjw (728654) on Tuesday March 14, 2006 @11:22PM (#14921528) Homepage
      It's interesting to me how the Federal Government always has to have some big cause to use as an excuse to violate citizen's civil liberties. In the 40's it was nationality with Japanese internments and such. In the 50's it was communism. In the 70's, 80's and 90's it was the 'war on drugs'. Now it's terrorism.

      Too bad that the American public can never seem to tie all of these 'issues' together...
  • by keraneuology (760918) on Wednesday March 15, 2006 @08:08AM (#14923078) Journal
    Am I the only person who speculates that perhaps Google shouldn't keep the data in the first place? Yes, I understand the geek mentality that never deleting any files is a good thing, but does Google really need to log every search along with the IP address?

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